Mother's Garden: In August, it’s all about tomatoes

Ruth Foster

Tomatoes are a tasting experience. It's a little like wine or any other gourmet food. Each variety is a little different in sweetness, aroma, acid, undertones, nuances and all the other words used to describe the pleasure of eating.

To have all those nuances of flavor, they must be picked just at their perfect ripeness, not too hard, not too soft, not too water logged and certainly never refrigerated.

Tomatoes are an interesting crop. They are easily cross-bred, so hundreds of varieties are available. The heirloom ones are old seeds. Many are very acidic, very full-bodied or very scented. Definitely tasteful.

Newer ones have been bred to be disease- and fungus-resistant, which are big problems. They're better colored, better shaped and often sweeter.

Also how tomatoes are grown and what fertilizer is used affects the flavor. Weather, too. Too much water or too much nitrogen makes them more bland. Too much compost produces more leaves and fewer tomatoes.

More phosphorous (P) and more potash (K) improves quantity and probably quality of the fruits. When tomatoes are planted out, a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) is given, but when the first flowers show, the fertilizer is changed to one higher in P and K (4-12-12). Since magnesium and iron are also needed, I've used soluble 18-18-21 with these micronutrients. Tomatoes need pH 6-7, so calcium at planting time is often needed.

Now if this is a bit more complicated than you really wanted to know, it's because growing tomatoes is complicated -- but also fascinating.

And also easy. They just need good soil, lots of sun, a little fertilizer and something to be tied up on. Mulch helps, for they hate hot feet. There is nothing quite so satisfying as picking a tomato ripe and still warm from the sun and eating it just then.

If you don't like digging, consider a big, big pot ( 2-feet x 2.5 feet).

One tomato plant per pot. Buy potting soil, specifically for vegetables, with or without fertilizer. However, in their composted manures and ocean fertilizer, plants grow better. Buy tomato plants next spring and eventually you, too, can have a harvest. Maybe basil around the edge. But be forewarned: Pots need water every day.

Commercial supermarket tomatoes are picked barely pinkish, sent long distances in refrigerated trucks and then synthetically ripened using the gas given off by ripe apples. In the process, they become just red, tasteless vegetables, an expensive mouthfull with a bad green footprint.

So buy local this summer, both for taste and to help keep our farmers financially afloat. Try your own taste test. Get one or a few of maybe 10 varieties. Don't forget to write down the names when you buy. I guarantee you won't remember when you get home.

Cut the big ones into nice cubes. And keep track of your impressions on a sheet of paper with the names. Just as with wine, everyone likes something a little different.

The ones I grow that I like best are Early Girl and Better Boy. Also Sweet 100's because they produce a lot, and a tiny cherry that almost tastes like candy.

If enough of you send your favorites, I'll publish the results. Send information to belmont@cnc.com.